It’s a breezy summer day in Bethesda, and the garage door windows of Prima, the 40-seat fast-casual Italian restaurant that chef Michael Schlow opened in May, are wide open. As two men in suits pass by, one says to the other, “This place is awesome!” And he’s right.
Prima’s tagline is “Fresh + Healthy + Italian.” You won’t find any pasta or pizza here; rather, there are bowls of healthful, ultra-flavorful goodies prepared in the Mediterranean style. When Schlow and his corporate executive chef Ed Scarpone started experimenting with the menu items, the dishes they made were coincidentally gluten-free, except for meatballs, which contained bread crumbs. So they switched to gluten-free crumbs and turned happenstance into a selling point.
The formula for ordering is simple and familiar. For $10, choose a base ingredient (arugula, kale, quinoa, brown rice); dressing (such as herb pesto or balsamic); three of many toppings offered (such as wild mushrooms, sweet peas with fresh mint, black lentils, roasted brussels sprouts, baby artichokes); dips or spreads (such as white bean or smoky eggplant purée); and garnishes (go for the crispy Parmesan crunchies). Proteins, such as roast turkey or salmon, are available for an upcharge.
If you don’t feel like doing the work, order one of seven composed bowls from Prima’s menu for $12. Our favorite is made with beef meatballs in tomato sauce, whipped ricotta cheese, brown rice, zucchini, roasted cauliflower and spicy tomato-basil vinaigrette. (The menu also has a kids bowl.)
Schlow Restaurant Group comprises 11 restaurants, seven of them in the Washington area, including Latin American-themed Tico and two outposts of the Italian sit-down restaurant Alta Strada. Prima, which took over the former Taylor Gourmet space at Bethesda Row, is Schlow’s first fast-casual spot and first Maryland location.
Prima, 7280 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-215-8300; craveprima.com